A short summary
This is a trip report from the trip that my wife Nikki and I went on during Easter of 2004. We were at Sun Island in the Maldives in the period April 4th to April 12th. This was a pure beach vacation so I can summarize it few words: sun, beach, sea, snorkeling, relaxing with a good book and a cold drink :-). I have tried to divide the page into 2 sections: a bit about our stay at the island and the other section includes more detailed stuff. I have also included a map of Sun Island on the pages to help you get your bearings. Get in touch if you have any questions or comments about the trip.
When I was standing on the slopes of Kilimanjaro last year I kept thinking “Why didn’t I just spend my money on a beach vacation with my wife”. Instead of relaxing on a beach, I was struggling to get to the top of Kibo and it was hard work. I guess it was there and then I promised myself that the next vacation would be a nice relaxing holiday on a beach somewhere. In the beginning of 2004 a colleague showed me the www.maldivene.no website which had some amazing pictures of Sun Island. We also have some friends that had been to Sun Island and they were kind enough to share their photos and experiences with us. All in all there was many a contributing factor that led us … to paradise.
A bit about the Maldives and Sun Island
The Maldives is a group of small islands located south west of India. They are located just north of the Equator and the nation is built of 1200 islands and only about 200 is inhabited. There are about 270,000 people living in the Maldives and the capital is Male’.
Because of the location it is nice and warm all year long and the average temperature is 29 to 32 degrees Celsius. The Maldives covers an area of 90.000 km² but 99 % of this is actually sea. It is easy to see this when you fly from the capital Male to your resort island :-)
We stayed at a resort called Sun Island (the name of the island is actually Nalaguraidhoo) and it is located in the South Ari Atoll. To get there from the capital Male’ you have to take either a 30 minute sea plane flight or go there by boat…a trip that will take about 2 ½ hours. We chose to go for the sea plane option (which cost a bit more than the boat) and we don’t regret that because it was amazing to see the islands from the air. Sun Island is operated by Villa Hotels and they also own other resorts such as Fun Island, Royal Island, Paradise Island and Holiday Island.
Preparations before the trip
To help us plan our trips we normally buy a guidebook and this time we went for the Lonely Planet book about the Maldives. It is always great to sit down with a book and read about your destination and look forward to the trip. But when thinking back I think that we could have done without the book. The Maldives is a fairly small country with a limited history. And like most people that go to the Maldives we ended up staying at just one resort island. The island that we stayed at was covered by just a few sentences in the book and there was not much we learnt from that. I think that it is better to get information about the island you are going to from people that have been there already. I have included some links in the end of this trip report that might be helpful. We bought the tickets for our trip to the Maldives through a company in Norway called Messereiser/Paradisreiser. On their page www.maldivene.no you can find which different resorts they can offer. We went for Sun Island resort and as it was still the high season we had to pay about 17.500 Norwegian kroner per person (about 2100€/2500$). For this price we got the flight to the Maldives and an all inclusive stay for 8 days.
Goodbye Norway – hello paradise
The Norwegian winters can be long and dark and it is always nice to have something to look forward too. And this trip was something that we had been looking forward to for quite some time :-). On Sunday April 4th we took of from Sola Airport in Stavanger and flew to Copenhagen and from there we flew to Vienna using Tyrolean Airways. In Vienna we didn’t have much time and we went to the gate to get on board the Lauda Air flight to Male. We got a couple of surprises at this point. First of all the flight was scheduled to have a stop in Dubai which we didn’t know about. And the second surprise was that Lauda Air used a Boeing 737-800 for this flight. I think this is a fairly small plane to use on a long haul trip. The flight from Vienna to Dubai took about 5 hours and we landed in Dubai at about 3 am. After a short break in Dubai where everyone had to get out, we continued the flight to the capital of the Maldives, Male’. It was great seeing the dawn from the plane and soon we were able to spot the characteristic coral atolls.
When we landed in Male’ (the airport is actually located on a separate island called Hulhule which is located next to the island of Male’) it was raining and that was not the welcoming weather we had hoped for but it was still humid and warm. The passport control was pretty fast but I think it is the first time that I have had my luggage x-rayed on entry to a country. The Maldives is a Muslim country and from what I have heard and read they remove stuff like alcohol, drugs, pornography, pork meat etc. We didn’t have any problems getting through this check and soon we were standing in the arrival hall in the airport. We then made our way to the Villa Hotels booth where we got instructions to get on a minibus. We were scheduled to take the 30 minute sea plane ride instead of the 2 ½ hours boat ride to get to Sun Island. The small bus took us on a 5 minute ride (we actually drove across the air strip itself) to get to the base of Trans Maldivian Airways. We checked in our baggage at the tiny terminal and we had to wait a little bit before our plane would take off. We looked around us in the departure hall and the people there were not what we had imagined. I guess we had pictured that only honeymooners go to the Maldives but around us were people of different ages and there were also quite a lot of families.
At about 11 am it was time to board the De Havilland Twin Otter sea plane. It was our first time in a sea plane so we were pretty excited. It was a bit funny looking at the arriving sea planes …it seemed like they put gas in the planes just like when you put gas into your car. And the pilots were dressed in white short sleeved shirts, blue shorts and they were of course barefoot. And all the pilots had a great tan of course…I guess that comes with the job when you are a pilot in paradise :-) The lift-off was very smooth and after a few minutes we were cruising at 3500 ft and it seemed like we were flying towards better weather. At this altitude we got a great view of the capital Male’ (the capital is located on one island and the airport is located on another), other resort islands and the coral atolls. It was beautiful to see all the shades of blue that the water has in this area.
The ocean is so blue
After a 30 minute comfortable ride we landed near our resort island Sun Island in the South Ari Atoll. The first thing that struck us in the blazing sun was of course how beautiful the scenery was. The ocean was light blue and the in the background were white beaches and palm trees. The landing was perfect and we docked at a small platform and soon we were picked up by a boat from the resort and the ride to Sun Island only took like 5-10 minutes. I was glad that I had put on my convertible pants so that I could change into shorts because it was hot. We arrived at the end of a long jetty and we walked over to the reception. The check in was fast and after writing down our details we were fitted with blue wrist bands to indicate that we were there on an all inclusive stay. We each got ‘key cards’ (piece of paper with schedules and your signature) which you can use as ‘ID’ when purchasing from the souvenir and other stores. We got driven to our room in a minibus and soon we also got the baggage.
Exploring the island
After we had arrived and unpacked some stuff we walked towards the lobby area to explore the island a bit more. The rain that we had experienced in Male’ eventually caught up with us on Sun Island and this was a bit unexpected because April is a month were it’s supposed to be pretty nice weather. In fact the first week of April is renowned to be prime diving and snorkeling times as the waters are at their clearest. It became even more annoying when people said that it had not rained for 2-3 months. But I’m not going to exaggerate this…the rain we got during our stay on Sun Island was not a big problem.
On our first evening we were naturally quite tired after the long flight we had been through. After dinner we took a walk on the beach and Sun Island is even beautiful at night. We walked bare foot on the beach in the light of the full moon. In the light of the moon we could see the shadows of little crabs running on the beach. We also saw these little crabs during the day. They kept on running away from us and we found little holes on the beach which seemed to be dug out by the crabs. Sometimes we would find pretty big holes that were dug and we couldn’t help wondering how big the crab was :-) It was quite amazing to notice that the temperature didn’t really drop that much when the sun went down. It would still be hot and quite humid so it was nice to end the evenings with a cold beer in the beach bar :-)
Lets see…we were on an island surrounded by great blue ocean and nice white beaches….it does not take much imagination to figure out that a lot of activities took place on the beach and in the water :-). The beaches on Sun Island are amazing and as you can see from many of the pictures on this page, the scenery is quite breathtaking. The sand varied from course to powder white near the water. One of the cool things (quite literary actually) is that the sand does not get very hot due to the sun. I have been to beaches (e.g. in Thailand) where I had to sprint to get to the water because my feet were burnt in the sand. This was not the case on Sun Island. The only thing that you have to beware of is coral pieces that are spread around on the beach. They can be a bit sharp so we had to watch our step on different places.
When we arrived at Sun Island we knew that there were about 700 guest beds on the island but it was hard to notice this because the bungalows are camouflaged behind some strategically placed palm trees and the beaches were never crowded. It was quite easy to walk around and find a place where we could be “alone” if we wanted to. The island is not all that big (even if it is one of the larger resorts in the Maldives) and it only took us about 1 hour to walk around the entire island on the beach itself. Most people seemed to prefer to hang out on the beach in the lobby area but the beach was pretty great all around the island. By the lobby we also found the pool by the way. Quite a lot of people seemed to prefer lying on sun beds around the pool area…and some preferred to sit in the pool bar all day long :-). It was not always easy to find a sun bed by the pool because people came early to occupy a bed by placing a towel on it. Nikki and I normally ended up by the beach bar where we found a couple of sun beds under a straw hut so that we could get some shade from the sun.
With such a beautiful ocean and perfect temperatures, one of the first things we did was of course to get in the water. We are not divers unfortunately but we do enjoy snorkeling a lot and we have tried this in places like Thailand and Mexico. We came prepared from Norway because we had already bought masks, snorkel and fins. I’m not an expert on diving equipment but I was very satisfied with the snorkel that I got from Technisub and I was also quite pleased with the mask I got from Seac Sub Seac Sub. I think that it is possible to rent equipment at Sun Island but we found out that it would become expensive to rent stuff every day.
The best place to snorkel was outside the Italian restaurant Alpontile (number 9 on the map). This was also the place where people that did a diving course got their first lesson. There was a ladder that went down from the pier itself and here we found ourselves on the edge of the reef. This was a prefect place to snorkel because the water started out with sand bottom and about 1 meter water depth. And just a few meters further out the water got deeper and there were coral reef. A lot of the corals were dead and I guess it is a combination of the coral bleach / El Nino a few years ago (when the water got hotter and lead to quite a lot of corals dying) and the traffic in this area. But it was amazing to see the number of fish is the water. They came in all colors, sizes and shapes and if people brought along some bread they seemed to converge in one spot at once :-). The ocean is quite a noisy place by the way…when we stuck our head in the water we could hear the sounds of all the fish nibbling away at the coral and rocks in the ocean.
We snorkeled more or less every day and it was great. The sun was really strong so I had to snorkel with a t-shirt to start with because I was getting fried in the sun. This was the first time I went snorkeling using contact lenses and it was great to finally be able to see well underwater as well :-) I guess the highlight of the snorkeling came when we dove down and got close to an octopus :-). On that side of the island we never came across shark but we did see small sharks by the water bungalows. During the day time they were quite tiny white and black tipped sharks (maybe 30-50 cm long) but in the evening we spotted some really large sharks (about 2 meters). I guess these sharks are quite harmless…after all each water bungalow has a ladder into the water:-). But we did get a bit skeptical when it came to snorkeling on this side of the island
After a couple of days of relaxing we decided that it was time for some activities. There were lots of different excursions available we signed up on a couple of the lists we found over by the lobby.
In our all inclusive package we got a free sunset fishing trip and we signed up for this on our second day on the island. We left the jetty by the Italian restaurant at about 5 pm and we went out in an open boat with about 8 people in it. After about 30 minutes we dropped the anchor to start the fishing. A slight problem we ran into was the fact that the crew on the boat didn’t know any English so it was a bit hard to get proper instructions. But hey, how hard can it be to catch a fish? :-)…we got a line each with a hook with bait and a small weight and we dropped it in the ocean. To start with the bait was just plucked off the hook and we also lost quite a few hooks because we got stuck on the sea bed. But when it started getting darker, people started pulling up fish and Nikki got the biggest one of them all…a nice big red snapper. Not bad for a girl that has never gone fishing before :-). Me on the other hand…well, shame on me….I got nothing at all. And I’m supposed to be from a nation that knows all about fishing.
The sunset was amazing and it turned the sky into a firework of colors. In the horizon we could see one cloud with an internal thunderstorm which lit up the cloud itself. It was quite peaceful…the one thing that could have turned this into a perfect trip was some cold drinks. We were gone for like three hours and we didn’t bring any water and I got quite thirsty in the heat. At about 8 pm we got back to Sun Island and after our daily buffet dinner at the Maaniya restaurant we headed over to another place called Guraa Muli grill terrace (7 on the map). Here Nikki got to point out her red snapper and after a few pictures the fish were grilled and served with some salad and some cold drinks :-). The sunset fishing trip normally costs 30 US dollars per person.
A few days later we also went on the Reef Explorer snorkeling trip. We got into a boat at about 9.30 am and the boat trip took about ½ hour. In the end we came to a stop right next to a reef and we jumped into the ocean. We were a bit nervous because before we jumped in the water our guide said that there were sharks in the area but they normally stayed in the deeper area. And he also added that if we saw sharks it was recommended to try to stay calm and not splash too much around in the water…yeah right. I think that this advice was more or less in the same category as “just lie still when you are attacked by a bear”. Well, when we got into the water we kept looking into the deep wondering if there would be any sharks that would appear but we didn’t see any sharks at all. At this reef it seemed like more of the coral was alive and once again we found lots of colorful fish in the area. It was a great place to snorkel because in the middle of the reef the water depth was about 1 meter and the sea bed was soft sand. So we could get up from time to time and relax and remove some water from our masks..
We were back at Sun Island at about noon. This excursion was called the Reef Explorer snorkeling trip and cost 18 US dollars per person. There were lots of other excursions that we didn’t try (follow the dolphins, Hello neighbors, Sunrise fishing etc.)
One of the reasons why we thought Sun Island was appealing was the fact that it has quite a lot of facilities on the island. I enjoy playing a bit of squash and there is one squash court located in the lobby area. In the sports center we also found two badminton courts, a few table tennis tables, and a gym where you could lift weights etc. They even had aerobics classes in the evening. All of this was included in our all inclusive deal (except for the aerobics which was 3 USD for 60 minutes) so it was just a matter of booking a court. I had brought along my squash racket but that was not really necessary because they had pretty good rackets for rent there. I soon found a squash partner too so I got to play a bit of squash while we were on the island. The only problem for me was that the squash court was partially indoors but with no air conditioning. And let me tell you…playing squash when it is 30 degrees is a hot affair :-). I don’t think that I have ever sweated that much in my entire life. So remember to bring along some water if you are going to play squash or badminton. It is also possible to buy a big bottle of water for 3 US dollars in the sports center reception. Outside the sports center we also found several tennis courts, a basket ball court and a beach volley ball court. So it should be possible to find some things to do if you get too bored of the beach and the snorkeling :-)
One of my problems when I go to a sunny destination like this is of course that the sun is a lot stronger than what I’m used to here in Norway. I have a pretty fair complexion and I was quite pale after a long Norwegian winter. I did try to take some artificial sun before we left but it didn’t really help. So it was of course important to bring along some sun cream. Sun cream comes in different prices and qualities and this time I had decided to go for a sun screen called Riemann P20 (http://www.p20.co.uk). The reason I mention this is because it is a bit unique. First of all it has gotten very good reviews in tests and you only apply it once a day! It is the last bit that made it a good option for me. Unfortunately the 20 sun factor was not strong enough for my pale skin so I got a bit sun burnt on the shoulders and the neck on the very first day. But the Reimann P20 was a good product. The only problem is that you have be newly showered and smear it on 90 minutes before you go out in the sun.
But I can say for sure that I saw a lot of people that were a lot more toasted than me :-). I guess some people forgot that they were on the equator and that the sun rays are reflected by the ocean and the white sand. I was very happy that I had brought along sun glasses and hats because the light was bright. Well, the Reimann lasts for a day. I wonder how long it will take to come up with a cream that lasts for 1 or 2 weeks. And the latest invention is airbrushing a tan on people. Why not combine these the sun screen and the fake tan …I think that it would have been great to come to a paradise like this and not have to worry about applying sun cream every day :-).
How to get around
With such a small island it is not really hard to get around. The island is about 1 ½ km long and only 500 meter wide and there are small roads leading around the island. I jogged around the island a couple of times and it went pretty fast. But it took us about 10 minutes to walk from our bungalow (from 16 to 4 on the map) to the lobby area so that should give you some indication to how long it will take to walk around the island. Most people seemed to go for the option of renting a bike to get around on the island. The bikes were for rent by the lobby and they cost 3 dollars a day. I had initially planned to bring along my roller blades to Sun Island but unfortunately I didn’t have any space in my suitcase. The paved roads around the island would have been perfect for roller blades. There were also some cars on the island by the way. Minibuses are used to transport luggage and people when they arrive and depart.
To the bat cave
One thing that surprised us when we first arrived was the bats. I’m used to small bats that fly around at night but here we were met by big bats that flew around in broad daylight. We even saw the bats flying off to neighboring islands during the day. I was told that they are fruit bats (or flying foxes) and I guess they are quite harmless. The only thing you have to watch out for are the droppings – wouldn’t want to get any of that on your head :-)
From time to time we would hear things moving around in the grass and bushes along the paved pathways. Most of the time it was colorful lizards that ran across the road and up in the nearest tree. But we also saw crabs that were walking around (we even had one big crab right on our door step one evening) and even little rodents. Some called them Maldivian hamsters but I suspect that it is just a nice word for rats :-). As always in Asian countries there were lots of geckos on the walls. I guess they are attracted to the light and there were always some on our bungalow when we came back at night.
We had brought along mosquito spray because we had heard that it could be a problem. Well, it didn’t take us long to get some mosquito bites that is for sure :-).
I have already mentioned sharks and colorful fish around the island. There were also quite a lot of manta rays and maybe even sting rays (I’m not quite sure how to tell the difference). During the daytime we only saw small rays (maybe about ½ meters in diameter) and they seemed to swim off if we got too close. But at night they had feeding of the rays near the service jetty on the west side of the island. And at this point the rays were a lot bigger. We even got to help out with the feeding but I was very skeptical to start with. But the guy who was leading the whole thing seemed to be pretty comfortable with the situation – he even used his big toe as ‘bait’ to entice them in certain directions!
A million stars
One evening after dinner we walked over to our bungalow and the sky was clear and lots of stars were shining bright. A disadvantage when you live in a city is that there are so much artificial light, it’s hard to really see how many stars there are. Well, we got a good look at the stars that evening. We walked over to the beach bar and got us some cold drinks and laid down on a couple of sun beds and looked up on the stars above us and let our eyes get used to the darkness. I still think it is so amazing to be able to be outside at 11 pm and just walk around in shorts and t-shirt and not freeze at all :-)
Talking about stars..hehe…the main bar by the lobby tried to get the party started at night and they had different themes in the evening. One evening was karaoke night, next live band performance and so on. Some of the people we heard singing on karaoke night was not bad. Unfortunately we are not blessed with great voices so we thought it best not to torture strangers with our strangled cat impressions.
On duty in paradise
The rumor on the island was that there were about 700 people working there to serve the tourists on the island. You can see the staff quarters on the map (the grey buildings located on the western part of the island). We walked through this area and they had their own staff cafeteria, staff shop, staff TV room etc. It seemed like they had decent facilities but I guess they live pretty close to each other and I guess that explains why there are almost just a pure male staff. I had a chat with the resort’s aerobic instructor, a Maldivian who told me that there were less then 10 girls working on the island. Well, walking through the staff quarters made me a little bit uncomfortable. I always feel a bit embarrassed to see that that many people has to work to make sure that Nikki and I and all the other tourists on the island could have a great holiday.
On other vacations we have often been a bit nervous to leave stuff like cameras, wallets, sun glasses etc on the beach while going in for a swim. And to start with we also thought this would be the case on Sun Island. But after a day or two I guess we realized that we didn’t have much to fear on the island. I guess that theft can occur in this paradise too but unless you have a boat you are not getting far. Most of our valuables were kept in the safe in the room so it was mainly stuff like sunglasses and camera that we brought along to the beach. I guess something that can be far more dangerous is the falling coconuts. - I guess it is something to think about before you lay down under a palm tree :-)
Time to go home…already?? :-(
Our one week on Sun Island flew by and soon it was time to go home again. On Monday April 12th we had to get up before 6 am to get ready for our flight back to Male’. After some delays we took off in a seaplane again and soon we landed near the airport in Male’. We did not have time to stop by Male’ on this trip and I’m not sure we would have even if we had the time. We have gotten different feedback on the town but most claim there is not that much to see there anyway. The airport in Male’ is quite small and the duty-free shopping section is not that big. But they had a pretty good selection of watches (Breitling, TAGHeuer, Omega etc). The selection of Breitling was really varied compared to Norway and the prices were not that bad either.
Our Lauda air flight was about 3 hours delayed from Male’. Once again we had a stop in Dubai and we were told that everyone had to get of the plane. So when all had gotten ready we were all of a sudden told that we were not to leave the plane after all. After a while we took off from Dubai and we came to Vienna just in time to miss our connecting flight - our travel agent had only given us a 40 minute transit time in Vienna. But Austrian Airlines booked us into an airport hotel (NH hotels) right outside the exit and we got a flight home (early) the next day.
We had been thinking about going to the Maldives for a while and initially we had planned to go there for our 10 year anniversary. But we found out why wait :-). Some of my friends make fun of me and say that I have problems relaxing on the beach. But I have to say that I really enjoyed our stay on the island. It was a perfect combination of relaxing on the beach with a good book and different activities such as snorkeling, playing squash, jogging etc. We have been on trips to other beach destinations in the past but the Maldives was in a league of its own. I think that we found just what we were looking for: a chance for total relaxation in a paradise.
Looking back I think we should have stayed longer than just a week because it was a pretty long trip to get to our dream destination. In the past we have enjoyed doing a combination of beach and city vacation and if we go to the Maldives again I think that we will be tempted to get of in Dubai for a few days :-) I guess I have to summarize it by saying that I have never felt closer to paradise than during our stay at Sun Island in the Maldives and our expectations were met. When I think back I will always remember the blue ocean, the white beaches and the great snorkeling.
I hope that the management on Sun Island runs the business in such a way that they preserve this paradise so that others can experience it the way we did. According to official web pages the Sun Island resort has gotten prizes for being an environmental friendly resort.
All the pictures on this page have been taken with my digital camera Canon Powershot S30. I have had this camera for about 2 years now and I’m pretty satisfied with it. Sometimes people ask me how I’m able to take nice pictures. Well, I guess the main issue is to know your camera. And the second recommendation I have is to take lots and lots of pictures…I guess some of them have to come out right :-). The Maldives was a beautiful place and it was easy to take beautiful pictures
Click here to continue to the next page. Here you will find info about our room, restaurants, how to get to Sun Island, links to useful pages on the Internet etc.